If you have a dog, chances are you’ll need to drive them places — to the vet, to a sitter, to a playdate, etc. This means your dog needs to feel comfortable in the car! While it’s most certainly easier to train your dog when they are young, you can train an older dog to be comfortable in the car, as well.
Here are a few steps to getting your dog comfortable in the car:
REWARD THEM FOR GETTING INSIDE WHILE THE CAR IS OFF
While this may sound pointless, it really isn’t. When the car is off, ask your dog to get into the car. You can get in with them or throw a cookie into the car — whichever your dog is going to like more. As soon as your dog puts their feet on the car, reward them! Give them a verbal reward (“good dog!”) and some treats. This will help build your dog’s love of the car.
Make sure you associate a verbal command with hopping into the car as well. The command I use is “hop up.” One of the most common problems you’ll run into after doing this a few times is that your dog will not want to leave the car. That’s why it’s equally important to reward your dog for getting out of the car. After you praise them for “hopping up,” say their release word and call them — “Okay, Rover, c’mere.” Reward with treats again for getting out of the car.
REWARD THEM FOR GETTING INSIDE WHILE THE CAR IS ON
This step is pretty self-explanatory. Do the same thing that was described in the previous step, only this time, turn your car on while training! If your dog isn’t particularly skittish of the car, then you can skip the training with the car off and move directly to rewarding them for getting in and out of the car while it is on.
INCORPORATE A CRATE
While some people prefer to use doggy-seatbelts for their furry friends, others have their dogs ride in a kennel. If you decide to use a kennel in your car, then it’s important that you play some crate games so your dog will get used to the kennel. (If you want more in-depth knowledge about crate games, then you can find a phenomenal DVD from Susan Garrett here.)
Essentially, the end goal of playing crate games is so that your dog can become comfortable and calm in a kennel. So, to incorporate a kennel into the car training, you’ll first need to put a kennel in your car. Use the same command you were using to ask your dog to jump into the car (“hop up”), and ask them to jump into the kennel. Once again, give them a big reward for going into the crate and another reward for coming back out.
TAKE A SHORT DRIVE
Now that they have gotten used to the car being on, the next thing is to get them used to the car moving. If you are using a crate, make sure there are things to do inside — bones to chew on or toys. If possible, have one person in charge of driving and another person in charge of rewarding your dog. As one person is driving, the other should drop cookies into the dog’s kennel (or, if not in a kennel, they should hand them the treats.) If the dog is more skittish in nature and wasn’t a huge fan of the car before this training, make sure to give them treats more frequently. If the dog doesn’t care that the car is moving and is just begging for treats, make sure to only reward the dog when they are being quiet and calm.
TAKE A LONGER DRIVE
As your dog gets used to the car, you can slowly build up the duration of the car ride. Make sure to continue rewarding them for good behavior! If your dog starts barking, scratching, or is showing otherwise stressed behavior, keep driving and wait until the dog is quiet — even if only for a moment — and reward them. Once they realize they are being rewarded for calm behavior, they are more likely to offer that behavior. It might take a while before they make the connection between the reward and the behavior, so make sure to be consistent in your reward. They’ll understand eventually!
If your dog is stressed to the point that they are not accepting the reward then move back to the earlier step. Chances are that your dog is not confident enough with the car quite yet to be on the step you are working on.
Another thing you can try is to give higher-reward treats. For example, instead of using crunchy biscuits, try using leftover chicken/steak/hamburger, hotdogs, or beef sticks. Even if your dog normally loves their biscuits, because the car is so stressful for them, they may not want the reward.
Some dogs need a lot of training in the car while others don’t have any problem with it at all. Have you ever had dogs who hated the car? Who loved it? Why do you think that was? Let us know in the comments down below!
Erika Newcomb is a full-time college student with a passion for pooches! She’s been training dogs for over 13 years and has been teaching agility classes for the last 3 years. As part of the behind-the-scenes support for @endeavorsofego, she can often be found brainstorming photo ideas and playing with Ego.